By Sarah Naron
CROCKETT – The bus drivers of Crockett Independent School District were recently afforded the rare opportunity to undergo school bus simulation training provided by the Region 6 Education Service Center.
“It’s very hard to come by,” CISD Transportation Director Bruce Baker said of the simulator. “I’ve been here for 10 years, and this is only the second time it’s been in Crockett.”
Safety Training Specialist Larry Thornton of Region 6 explained that the training course – provided in association with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is completed by drivers over three days.
“The first day, we cover laws and recommended best practices as set forth by the State of Texas,” Thornton said. “The second day, they learn evasive steering. They learn how to get out of trouble as quick as they got into it.
“They cannot control what the other people (on the road) do,” Thornton pointed out. “So, what we have to do as trainers is train them to use the appropriate protocols to not be involved in an accident.”
On day three of the program, drivers put their skills to the test as the trainers determine whether “they meet all the state standards as set forth by the State of Texas and use the recommended practices.”
Following their “drive” in the training simulator, drivers receive a detailed report of their performance during a one-on-one consultation with an examiner.
An evaluation for each driver is also presented to the transportation director.
“He can go through this, and he can see the areas that they need to work on – the areas of concern – or things that they’re doing good,” Thornton said.
According to Thornton, the program is “a win-win situation” due to the fact that no payment is required by the school district.
“This is a free program set up through Region 6 Education Service Center and TxDOT,” Thornton explained. “Region 6 owns this equipment, and TxDOT pays the bill as far as our services.”
The training simulator takes the drivers on a 20-minute “trip” during which they are presented with obstacles they may face while driving an actual bus.
“This is a virtual reality machine,” Thornton said of the simulator. “The floor moves and vibrates. The steering wheel – if you hit a bump, it moves. We can make it rain, sleet, hail, snow, black ice appear, fog bank roll in – anything that can happen in the natural world, I can make it happen here.”
Thornton said only three such units are currently mobile in the United States, and the one used by Region 6 is “the most up-to-date.
“We really take a lot of pride in this,” Thornton said. “We really get to see a lot of growth in the drivers.”
The bus drivers employed by Crockett ISD, according to Thornton, are among the best he’s seen this year.
“Crockett is one of the top schools,” he said. “The drivers really know their laws quite well.”
As Thornton pointed out, he and his team are aware that not every school district they visit will be in compliance prior to the training.
“We certainly understand that, but we do want them there,” he said. “And the neat thing about Crockett is, I haven’t seen a deficit yet, which is very rare.”
In addition to the drivers themselves, Thornton also reported being impressed with Crockett ISD’s facilities.
“The buses are clean; they’re swept out,” he said. “Even though y’all have rural environment situations where y’all go down dusty roads, these buses are kept up.”
For drivers such as Albert Berry, the experience was a beneficial one.
“I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know, and I drove 18-wheelers for 37 years,” said Berry, a third-year bus driver who completed the training for the first time this week. “There’s a whole of things that I didn’t know at first.
“It helped me to pay attention and be aware of my surroundings on that bus,” Berry continued. “I really enjoyed it.”